23 Chasing the Ducks

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Stephen Whiteside
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23 Chasing the Ducks

Post by Stephen Whiteside » Fri Nov 04, 2011 5:50 am

23 Chasing the Ducks

© Stephen Whiteside 04.10.2011

Horatio bolted after them. Magnifico’s jaw dropped in anger, as he lay in the shade nursing his sore feet.

Hey! What do you think you’re doing! Come back!

But Horatio did not hear. Or else he simply chose to ignore Magnifico. Magnifico watched as Horatio raced away into the distance.

There was nothing for it but to follow. So he did. At least, as best he could. At first he limped, but Horatio was racing away from him faster and faster. He was going to have to run more quickly or else he would lose Horatio altogether.

He didn’t think it possible, but he did run faster. His feet stopped hurting. They became simply numb. And, in the desperation to avoid being abandoned, and finding himself completely alone once again, he simply stopped thinking about them. Where they were running, or why, he did not know. One thing he was sure of, though. The direction was completely wrong. They had no chance now of finding the river. They were probably going to die. But if he was to die, he wanted to die with Horatio. He did not want to die alone. He would do anything to avoid that. And so he ran. Ran for his life.

Horatio, too, was running for his life. But it felt very different. He was chasing the ducks, but they were flying too fast, far too fast, and he could not keep up. What had been a clear wedge of a dozen or so was now no more than a faint smudge just above the horizon. He had to follow them. It was their only chance. He had to follow them as far as he could. For a time he had entertained hopes of following their cries after they were lost from sight, but he had lost the cries long ago. At last the faint smudge, too, disappeared, and Horatio collapsed. He could do no more. He was not prepared to keep running blindly. That, in a sense, was how they had become so lost in the first place. No, once the ducks were lost from view, it was time to rest again. To sit. To prop. To take stock. He didn’t think this. He just KNEW it. He didn’t know how he knew it, and he didn’t stop to think about HOW he knew it. He just knew it. This was life or death for him and Magnifico. He knew that much also. And there was no time for thinking. There was only time for action. Action might save them. Thinking that delayed action would spell their doom. Not that Horatio was thinking this, either. He wasn’t thinking anything, in fact, as Magnifico pulled up exhausted beside him.

Magnifico was too short of breath to say anything. He collapsed by Horatio’s side, gulping hungrily at the sweet air for a long time before he spoke.

And when at last he did speak, it was more in sadness than in anger. Why did you do that?

Do what?

Why did you race off after those ducks like that?

I’m not sure. It just seemed important. Like it was our only hope. Our last chance. A gift from God that we’d be fools not to accept.

But why?

Well, ducks like water, don’t they?


Well, I figured they’d be flying to water. Like a river.

Or away from water.

What do you mean?

Well, maybe they were flying away from the river, not towards it.

Not at this time of day. And not the way they were flying, either.

What do you mean?

They looked too purposeful. Determined. They knew where they were going. And only one thing makes a duck as determined as that.

But you’re not a wild rat, Horatio, you’re a civilised rat. You don’t know stuff like that.

Well, maybe I do. I don’t know. Maybe I’m not as civilised as I thought I was. Or maybe a wild rat lies under every civilised rat if you just scratch the surface a little. I don’t know. I don’t know how I knew it, but I did.

No you didn’t. You just think you did. There’s a big difference. Those ducks took us in completely the wrong direction. Trust me. Now we are going to die. Before you headed off after those ducks we still had some hope, but now all hope is gone. We are completely, irretrievably, irrevocably lost.

Horatio dropped his head. I’m sorry.

Horatio couldn’t believe what a fool he had been. He had felt so sure of himself but now, under the barrage of Magnifico’s admonitions, that confidence left him like a veil that had been pulled away. All he felt was a deep sadness. Sadness and regret. And guilt. The old guilt came back, falling into line like a column of well-drilled infantry soldiers after confidence had been removed.

Magnifico was right. How could he have been such a fool? How could he have behaved so rashly and irresponsibly? How could he have failed to consult Magnifico, at the very least, after he had proved such a good friend, and saved his life on so many occasions?

Ah well, there was nothing to be done about it. What’s done is done, thought Horatio. And what will be will be.

Horatio and Magnifico lay back silently, and said nothing. There was no more to be said, no more to be done. Their end was surely near. Silence enveloped them. A deafening, impenetrable silence. The heavy, all pervading silence of doom. And through it all they could hear...what could they hear? There was no mistaking it. Soft and distant, but real, nonetheless. The happy gurgling of water!
Stephen Whiteside, Australian Poet and Writer

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